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begging the question

Begging the question is what one does in an argument when one assumes what one claims to be proving.

An argument is a form of reasoning whereby one gives a reason or reasons in support of some claim. The reasons are called premises and the claim one tries to support with them is called the conclusion.

If one's premises entail one's conclusion, and one's premises are questionable, one is said to beg the question.

The following argument begs the question.

We know a god exists because we can see the perfect order of creation, an order which demonstrates supernatural intelligence in its design.

The conclusion of this argument is that a god exists. The premise assumes a creator and designer of the universe exists, i.e., that a god exists. In this argument, the arguer should not be granted the assumption that the universe exhibits intelligent design, but should be made to provide support for that claim.

The following argument also begs the question.

Abortion is the unjustified killing of a human being and as such is murder. Murder is illegal. So abortion should be illegal.

The conclusion of the argument is entailed in its premises. If one assumes that abortion is murder then it follows that abortion should be illegal because murder is illegal. Thus, the arguer is assuming abortion should be illegal (the conclusion) by assuming that it is murder. In this argument, the arguer should not be granted the assumption that abortion is murder, but should be made to provide support for this claim.

The following is another example of begging the question.

Paranormal phenomena exist because I have had experiences that can only be described as paranormal.

The conclusion of this argument is that paranormal phenomena exist. The premise assumes that the arguer has had paranormal experiences, and therefore assumes that paranormal experiences exist. The arguer should not be granted the assumption that his experiences were paranormal, but should be made to provide support for this claim.

Here is another example of begging the question.

Past-life memories of children prove that past lives exist because the children could have no other source for their memories besides having lived in the past.

The conclusion of this argument is that past lives exist. The premise assumes that children have had past lives. The arguer should not be granted the assumption that children have had past lives but should made to support the claim. (Saying the memories could have no other source than a past life is to assume that past lives exist. This should not be granted but argued for.)

Another example of begging the question is provided by Perry Marshall:

1) DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a code ... and an information storage mechanism.

2) All codes are created by a conscious mind; there is no natural process known to science that creates coded information.

3) Therefore DNA was designed by a mind.

Marshall assumes what he should be proving, namely, that all codes are created by a conscious mind. (He also claims that DNA is a language and that no language has evolved naturally, but that's another fallacy.)

See also logical fallacies.


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Last updated 14-Jan-2014

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